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Tokyo’s 6 best overlooked museums

Tokyo is a vast and diverse city, with a cultural life to match. Attempting to fit even a tenth of the museums into a trip will leave your head spinning, but here are six of the city’s lesser known museums that you really won’t want to miss.

The Sumo Wrestling Museum

The Ryōgoku Sumo Hall in Tokyo

The Ryōgoku Sumo Hall in Tokyo

This quintessentially Japanese museum is as much of a research centre as it is an exhibition space. Studies of the sociological and historical impact of sumo wrestling on Japanese culture are ongoing, but the Sumo Wrestling Museum also holds six annual exhibitions. Items on display include 500 sumo dolls, thousands of woodblock prints and Banzuke (the official ranking lists). The themed rooms at the Park Hotel Tokyo include a sumo room, decorated with murals of two sumos preparing to wrestle.

Hatakeyama Memorial Museum of Fine Art

Lacquered Japanese tableware

Lacquered Japanese tableware

Hatakeyama Issē founded the Hatakeyama Memorial Museum of Fine Art in 1964 and used it to house his own collection of tea-related items. Focusing both on the ceremonial Japanese ceremony and the art it has inspired, the museum contains Chinese, Japanese and Korean works of art. You will find calligraphy, ceramics, Noh costumes and a traditional tea house inside the building with three more outside. Or you can enjoy your own traditional tea ceremony at the Royal Park Hotel.

Tokyo Trick Art Museum

An aerial view of Odaiba Seaside Park

An aerial view of Odaiba Seaside Park

The 3D optical illusion paintings on display at the Tokyo Trick Art Museum are often delightful, occasionally surreal, and always worth visiting. Guides are on hand to demonstrate how to pose for photos with the exhibit and – when needed – take any photos your arms aren’t long enough to capture. Paintings on display include a giant vampire appearing to trap the visitor in an upside down wine glass, a recreation of The Milkmaid by Vermeer where the milk ‘pours’ directly into visitors mouths and a giraffe leaning through a window to be petted. Stay a short walk away at the Oakwood Apartments Ariake.

Ghibli Museum

The Robot Soldier statue at Ghibli Museum

The Robot Soldier statue at Ghibli Museum

At once as whimsical and absorbing as the films it documents, the Ghibli Museum in Inokashira Park offers a fascinating insight into Hayao Miyazaki’s artistic process. Exhibitions detailing the animated films produced by Studio Ghibli are dotted all over the museum, with a life-sized replica of the My Neighbour Totoro cat bus proving almost as popular at the Robot Soldier statue. The Kichijoji Daiichi Hotel is on the opposite side of Inokashira Park, providing travellers with a scenic walk to the museum.

Museum of Sewerage

Definitely not a trip to take before you’ve had lunch, the Museum of Sewerage documents the, er, ‘life cycle’ of sewage. Exhibits include statue of a newspaper reading giant sat on the toilet, a timeline of wastewater disposal in Tokyo, a history of Tokyo’s sewerage system and an ‘Experience Room’ where visitors walk through an actual, operational sewerage tunnel. After a few hours at this museum, you may be feeling the need to shower a few dozen times so why not take advantage of the luxurious spa options on offer at the nearby Conrad Tokyo?

Kite Museum

Ukiyoe kite decorations

Ukiyoe kite decorations

Small yet spellbinding, Tokyo’s Kite Museum sits above the Taimeiken restaurant (try the tampopo omuraisu) and boasts over 300 examples of traditional, hand-painted Japanese kites. The kites are made from bamboo and sturdy Washi paper, decorated with brightly painted figures from Japanese history and mythology. Started by the Taimeiken owner to house his own kite collection, today the museum acts as the headquarters of the Japanese Kite Association. For a kite’s view of Tokyo, check into the Hotel Ryumeikan, only a short walk from the museum.